The Collegian
Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Commission releases draft naming guidelines

<p>The miniature signage surrounding Mitchell-Freeman hall remains, with the word "Freeman" blocked out with blue paint.</p>

The miniature signage surrounding Mitchell-Freeman hall remains, with the word "Freeman" blocked out with blue paint.

The Naming Principles Commission proposed guidelines for future naming decisions and recommended the creation of an advisory committee to inform such decisions.

Community members will be able to provide feedback on the draft until March 21 through the Contact the Commission portal, according to the email sent by the Commission to the UR community on Tuesday. In the interim report included in the email, the Commission summarized the results of the Gallup survey, the effectiveness of the listening sessions and written comments from the UR community.

The Commission recommended 10 principles to guide future decisions regarding the dedication, removal or modification to names on campus. The proposed principles would apply to buildings, professorships, programs and more.

“Those honored with a naming should uphold and advance the University’s mission, values, and aspirations,” the first principle in the draft states.

The proposed guidelines also stated that the Board would have ultimate authority about naming decisions, and reserves the right to remove names subject to existing legal obligations associated with the name.

When asked what potential existing legal obligations could be, Cynthia Price, associate vice president of media and public relations, did not specify what those obligations would be. 

The Commission was created after challenges to Ryland and then Freeman halls were pointed out because of the buildings’ namesakes involvement in slavery and eugenics in a joint resolution made by the student governments in fall 2019. 

The draft’s sixth principle aims to address this concern by disqualifying a person who “directly engaged in the trafficking and/or enslavement of others or openly advocated for the enslavement of people” from having buildings, programs, professorships or other entities named after them. Documented evidence of the promotion of segregation, eugenics or other instances of race-based discrimination or oppression also disqualifies a person or entity from being honored with a naming at UR, the draft reads. 

The Commission also urged the Board in the report to make a final decision on the potential renaming of Ryland and Mitchell-Freeman halls in April.

The recommendation proposed a standing institutional advisory committee be established to consider questions of name removal, according to the interim report. The standing advisory committee would consider questions of name removal and make recommendations to the president and the Board. 

Sophomore Chris Mitchell said he felt as though the Commission was avoiding the problem they were originally given with the names of Mitchell Douglas-Freeman and Ryland halls. 

“How many committees does it take to solve one problem?” he said. “Yeah, of course, we need to change it and make it easier in the future, but why try and do that before we even fix the issue at hand? It just feels like they're really working around a solution when it's like, staring them in the face.”

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First-year and president of the Black Student Alliance, Christian Herald, said establishing the advisory committee would be a strong response to requests from students to have more representation, as there’s only one UR student on the current Commission. 

On Feb. 2, the student governments unanimously passed a joint resolution that demanded the Board add student and staff trustees with voting abilities, and Herald felt that this was a nice start. 

The report states, “The composition of the committee should be appropriately balanced so that no constituent group holds disproportionate representation.”

Kevin Spear, a senior and Richmond College Student Government Association senator, also thinks having more diverse representation on the advisory committee will be a good thing, he said. The report also shows how UR is taking calls for renaming seriously and being transparent about it, he said.

“With this Commission and the recommendation going to the trustees, I think you're going to get a lot more stakeholders in the university at all levels offering input, rather than just upper-level people making the decision by themselves,” he said. “So I think there's more representation in the naming of future buildings, which is good, and I think will lead to better practices moving forward.”

The standing advisory committee will be expected to forward its recommendations to the president and Board within one calendar year of a request being made, according to the report. 

“The only caveat I would say about [the committee] is the timeframe for it,” Herald said. “I mean, that's a difference between someone being fully in college and someone being graduated, so I feel like there maybe should be some efforts to shorten that time and to ensure that doesn't get unnecessarily dragged out. 

“Because, as we've seen, having names on buildings for long periods of time that are not respectful to marginalized students on campus can have issues the longer it goes on.”

Overall, Herald thinks the report is a solid follow-up, she said. 

“I think it's great that they're staying on track, and seeing the detail of the report, it’s clear they put a lot of time and effort and thought into it,” she said. “So I don't actually mind the [length of the process] at this point now that there is a clear timeline established.”

The guidelines listed emphasized the significance of racial forms of discrimination regarding naming, renaming and de-naming decisions made by the Commission, but senior Avery Solsbak was concerned about the process itself. 

Solsbak found the principles from the report relatively agreeable, he wrote in an email to The Collegian. He and others, however, also opposed the naming of buildings and other honors with the names of people who have contributed to the exclusion of groups based on sexual orientation, gender identity and others modes of bigotry, he said.

“While I would prefer more explicit language regarding other forms of discrimination practiced by potential names, they are broadly tenable,” he said. “What concerns me about the statement is the segment regarding the process of renaming. The Board of Trustees retains full control while students and faculty are powerless. 

“Although the principles may be in line with student goals, the Board remains unaccountable to our interests, which is how we got here in the first place.”

Contact city and state editor Meredith Moran at meredith.moran@richmond.edu.

Contact copy chief Madyson Fitzgerald at madyson.fitzgerald@richmond.edu.

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